Page images
PDF
EPUB

'His daughter's spouse the Libyan found
E'en thus. In rich array her place hard by the goal she took,

the race
To guerdon; and her sire proclaimed around,
Who clasped her first should claim the prize.
Swift o'er the course Alexidamus flies,
And seized her hand in his, and bore
His bride through hosts of nomad horsemen raining down
Full many a leaf and crown,
And many a triumph-plume was his before.'

Morice. The object of his longest ode, which contains the legend of Jason and the golden fleece, was to restore his friend Damophilus to the favour of the Thessalian king Arcesilas, whose generosity the poet endeavours to excite by an allegory, showing the futility of attempting to crush a noble foe by severity. The oak may be put to unworthy uses, or even be burnt as firewood, but it will still assert its superiority :

‘E’en in decay it testifies its worth,
Whether in flames it ends on winter's hearth,
Or, matched with comrade pillars tall,
It props a lordly palace wall,
Painfully doomed in alien home to toil,
Banished from its native soil.'

Morice.
Only two of the odes are addressed to Athenian victors,
and neither of them refer to the prominent position of
Athens in Grecian history; whereas the glories of other
States are both recorded and predicted :-

"Well, ere now, my song hath told
Of their Olympic victories ;
And what shall be must coming lays unfold.
Yet hope have I,—the future lies
With fate,-yet bless but heaven still their line,
Ares and Zeus shall all fulfil !
For, by Parnassus' frowning hill,
Argos and Thebes, their fame how fair!
And oh, what witness soon shall bear,
In Arcady, Lyceæus' royal shrine !
Pellene, Sicyon of them tell
Megara and the hallowed dell
Of Æacids; Eleusis ; Marathon bright;
And wealthy towns that bask ’neath Ætna's height;
Eubqa's island. Nay, all Greece explore,
Than eye can see, you'll find their glories more.'

6

Through life, great Zeus, sustain their feet;
And bless with piety, and triumphs sweet !'

Morice.
Of the many mythical legends with which the odes abound,
none is more artistically told than that of Castor and
Pollux:-

"To them in turn the lot is given
For one short day to taste the bliss of heaven,
Guests of the gods around the throne of Jove;

The next in Therapne's grove,
The silence of the tomb, the lot of man, to prove.
So blent in wondrous love, the godlike pair

One fortune share.
For such the lot immortal Pollux chose,

What time to his free choice 'twas given
To live the life of gods in heaven,
Or share his brother's woes.'

Moberly. In an ode celebrating an athletic triumph, the following lines, which are of universal application, occur :

But not in every age successive born
Doth its full strength ancestral virtue show,
Nor year by year with crops of golden corn

Doth the rich furrow glow;
Nor are the laden trees unfailing drest

With their sweet burthen hour by hour,

Swoln bud and fragrant flower ;
But all alike they own alternate wealth and rest.
E'en so alternate is the race of man.'

Moberly. Notwithstanding its many beauties, it is remarkable how seldom the poetry of Pindar is quoted by other writers, probably because his genius consisted chiefly in reflecting the spirit of the age he lived in, and in recording events which were of deeper interest to those for whose gratification they were celebrated than to future generations. The popularity, too, which his compositions enjoyed from their sonorous adaptation to music and the dance was not likely to survive the national demands for Choral odes; and his rapid transition of thought undoubtedly weakens the impression of his conceptions on the memory. On the other hand, there are many such passages as the following, which will never become obsolete :

of woe į

• What are we, great or lowly? Creatures of a day !
Man's but a phantom dream. Yet in the gracious ray
Poured from on high, his life puts joy and glory on.'
‘Hiero, thou knowest, for known to thee is all tradition's lore,
How, for each blessing gods bestow, they add a double share
Fools may not brook its weight, but wise men find
The threatening cloud is silver-lined.'

• What is gone
(Came it of right or maugre right) is none;
No, not time's self that brought it, can reverse !
Yet all may be forgot in happier hours,
For blessings new destroy the primal curse.'

Morice. There is, moreover, a general tone of morality and philosophy throughout his works, to which he gives expression in the

prayer :

Grant me, O Jove, each crooked path to shun,
Simple and straight my honest race to run !

So may mine bé
No name to tinge with shame my children's cheek!
Gold, lands, let others seek; I ask an honoured grave;

The good to adorn,
And load the vile with scorn.'

Moberly.

6

HERODOTU S.

DIED B.C. 413.

ERODOTUS is famous not only as the father of

history, but as having visited the greater portion of

the then known world, availing himself, in the course of his travels, of every accessible source of information. Living in the days of Salamis and Platæa, the principal subject of his history is the overthrow of the Persian armada, by which event the western world generally escaped being orientalised, probably for ever, and the freedom and progress of later times were secured. He has a habit of narrating fact and fable with equal apparent credence, but he treats the rites and beliefs of religion, such as they w in those days, with deep respect, and maintains the principle that Nemesis will not permit an excess of mortal prosperity. He is not always impartial, though he has none of the usual Greek contempt for barbarians,' and, while he invariably sympathises with heroism, he combines the head of a sage with the heart of a mother and the simpleness of a child.'

Commencing with the quarrels between Europe and Asia in the mythical ages, he relates how a Phænician skipper carried off Io, daughter of Inachus, king of Argos, to Egypt, upon which the Greeks abducted Europa from Tyre, and Medea from Colchis. Then Croesus, king of Lydia, who was fabulously rich, deriving his wealth from the gold washed down in the sand of the river Pactolus, invaded several of the Grecian states, but afterwards made alliance with the Spartans to assist him in a campaign against Cyrus the Persian, by whom he was made prisoner at Sardis, the great slave market of the ancient world, and the place where money was first coined.

He then reverts to the times of the Assyrian rule in Asia, followed, after the fall of Nineveh, by that of the Medes, whose wonderful city Agbatana he describes as built on a conical hill, and surrounded by seven circular walls, one within the other, the last two with silvered and gilded battlements. He also records how Astyages, their last king, having given his daughter in marriage to Cambyses, a Persian, was deposed by their son Cyrus, who was rescued from death when a child by a herdsman named Harpagus, and who thus, after defeating Croesus, became sole master of Asia. It is mentioned that the Persians used to expose their dead to be eaten by wild animals and birds, a practice continued by the Parsees in India to the present day. Harpagus, now a general, soon reduced to submission the petty states in Asia Minor, and awed the Greeks against aiding them ; while Cyrus proceeded against Babylon, whose marvels the historian fully describes, and, by diverting the course of the river Euphrates, which ran through it, made his way to the palace where the handwriting on the wall was interpreted by the prophet Daniel. One of the customs of the city, Heredotus tells us, was that the women were disposed of in marriage by auction, the sums paid for the . beauties being given as premiums to those who would take the plain and ugly damsels. Cyrus's next and last expedition was against the Greater Goths, who lived in the steppes near the Caspian Sea, ruled by an Amazonian widow named Tom-y-ris, under whom they fought so fiercely that the Persian king was slain, and his army completely defeated.

The history next passes on to the most ancient of all dynasties, the land of Egypt, whose arts were as primeval as her monuments are vast and indestructible.

Dealing first with the source of the Nile, and the supposed causes of its overflow in the midst of summer, Herodotus observes that the Egyptians asserted the migration of the soul in a cycle of other created beings for three thousand years, when it lived again in human forin; and that at their

« PreviousContinue »